SHINRAN'S THOUGHT IN PRESENT-DAY JAPAN1
in: The Impact of Traditional Thougth on Present-Day Japan, ed. by Josef Kreiner, iudicium 1996, pp. 85-107
SOME ASPECTS OF CONTEMPORARY JAPANESE RELIGIOSITY
The role of religions in present-day Japanese society is a problem that has puzzled many Western observers. Even a tourist on a brief visit to Japan may notice the contrast between the innumerable and often very impressive shrines and temples everywhere coupled with the great variety of festivals and rituals with a religious background, on the one hand, and the apparent lack of interest in religion among the majority of the Japanese, on the other. Scholars of religion, too, have found it difficult to evaluate and classify the various, often apparently contradictory, phenomena of Japanese religion and this has led to widely disparate interpretations. There are those who regard Japan as one of the most irreligious countries and see this as the result of a continuing process of secularization. Others are especially impressed by the growth and the frequent emergence of so-called "New Religions" (shinkō-shūkyō) or recently even "new New Religions" (shin-shinshūkyō; cf. Kamstra 1990: 181-182; Reader 1988: 235-236). They regard this as an expression of the dynamism and potential of Japanese religiosity and even as an indication of a possible "re-sacralization of Japanese thought" (Köpping 1990: 2).
One problem involved in these evaluations of Japanese religion is the question of the adequacy of Western terminology, which cannot be avoided when using a Western language. The term "secularization", for instance, has a specific historical and religious context in the West and, therefore, cannot be applied without further qualifications to the situation in Japan. The same applies, of course, to the central term "religion" and its derivatives, which are already difficult to define in the European context.
To illustrate the problems arising from the use of Western terminology and, at the same time, to point out a major distinctive feature of Japanese religiosity, which is also important for a critical evaluation of Shinran's thought, I would like briefly to discuss the concept of bun ("share", "part", or "fraction") as it is used by Jan Swyngedouw (1986: 10-11) in his attempt to characterize Japanese religiosity. He has taken this concept from Takie Sugiyama Lebra (1976: 67-69) who applies it to the position of individuals
in Japanese society. She stresses three implications of this concept, "which all derive from the image of society as an organic whole, individuals being parts of that organism" (Lebra 1976: 67). These implications are: 1) with regard to his bun the individual "does not count as an integer but only as a part or fraction of the whole," (2) "bun-holders are interdependent" and (3) "every member of society is a bun-holder," which makes his life meaningful (Lebra 1976: 67-68).
With regard to Japanese ethical and religious values Swyngedouw emphasizes that
(t)he concept of bun implies that each value, put into its compartment, is to be considered not as integral in itself but only as a part or fraction of the whole [...1 The concept further implies that all the different bun or values are interdependent and contribute to the over-arching value which keeps the whole together by acknowledging each other's (limited) role and claims and by not overstepping their own assigned boundaries. This overarching value is nothing else than musubi2 (Swyngedouw 1986: 10)
This concept and the underlying mentality are difficult to grasp from the point of view of Western thought.3 Lebra's description probably comes as dose to the phenomenon as is possible in English. But Swyngedouw's description, though he seems to shift the meaning only slightly, is no longer adequate. It presupposes the individual existence of the parts which then form the whole, whereas in an organism there is no need "to hold together" what is a natural unity from the beginning and there is also no "overstepping of boundaries" because the single parts only exist as they do in their function within the whole.4
One could add to this another characteristic element of Japanese religions (and society in general) that is also important in connection with Shinran's thought, namely the significance of personal "vertical" human
relationships in religious organizations, like those between master and disciple or between the head of a group or organization and his followers or believers. Charismatic leaders play a decisive role in the establishment of religious organizations (especially noticeable in the case of the New Religions), and family lineage seems to guarantee the continuity of this relationship to the founder through his successors. Even in the Christian churches in Japan many believers appear to be more attached to one particular priest or pastor, especially a charismatic one, than to the organization as such and accordingly may discontinue their commitment to the church when this person is transferred or dies.
Having to confine ourselves to those aspects of Japanese religiosity that are important for the understanding of Shinran's thought today, the above brief considerations must suffice here.
STATISTICAL DATA ON JAPANESE RELIGIONS
Before entering into a discussion on the influence of Shinran's thought in present-day Japan it seems advisable to consider some of the statistical and other data available on Japanese religions. This should allow us to estimate more effectively the impact of religious thought on Japanese society in general and within it the specific influence of Shinran's thought.
Unfortunately, the data available is scarce and difficult to evaluate. The most comprehensive figures are published every year by the Agency for Cultural Affairs, Ministry of Education, in its Shūkyō Nenkan. But even the Agency admits "that it is next to impossible to make order out of the chaos that lurks behind the neat rows of figures" (Japanese Religions 1972: 237). The information collected there is provided voluntarily,5 it is incomplete6 and the classification used by the different organizations is disparate and sometimes quite arbitrary. Traditional religions usually count all the households in the community or parish and multiply them by the median family size to compute the number of "adherents", and some organizations include among their members all those who subscribe to their jour-
nal or just buy a talisman from them.7
This suggests that the actual number of adherents, even if understood in its widest sense, is in many cases only a fraction of the figure given in the Shūkyô Nenkan.8 Thus we can gain only a rough idea of the strength and possible influence in contemporary Japanese society of the Jōdo Shinshū (usually called simply Shinshū, i. e. Shin School), the "true Pure Land School", which regards Shinran as its founder, though we can estimate to some extent at least its relative importance within traditional Buddhism. The Shūkyō Nenkan lists the various branches of the Jōdo tradition in one group, two thirds of which, in terms of adherents, belong to the Shinshū For 1988, the number of temples (which should be a fairly reliable figure) is given as 29,768, compared to 74,725 for all Buddhist organizations, the number of the clergy as 58,421 out of 198,299, and the number of adherents as 19,702,132 out of 86,476,301 (Shûkyō Nenkan 1990: 46-47, cf. 68-71).
More reliable data can be gained from surveys of Japanese religiosity. A recent one, conducted by the Japan Broadcasting Corporation (NHK),9 shows that 33 percent of the Japanese consider themselves "believers", a figure that has been fairly constant over the past decades.10 The percentage of those who believe that supernatural beings (kami or hotoke) exist, corresponds to this approximately.11 About 80 percent of the "believers" are Buddhists (27 percent of the population as against 3.4 percent for Shintô, 1.5 percent for Christianity and 1.1 percent for others) and empathy (shitashimi) towards Buddhism is shown by 63 percent of the Japanese (Shintō only 18 percent, Christianity 12 percent).12 Other figures that refer to religious activities in a wider sense are mostly considerably higher than
the percentage of "believers". This is true of, for instance, occasional prayers in time of distress, the use of charms and oracle lots, caring about lucky and unlucky days, having a Shintō altar shelf or Buddhist altar, visiting family graves or shrines and temples on certain days, particularly on New Year's Day (hatsumōde); even "buying a Christmas cake" is included in the NHK survey and scores higher than the hatsumōde (Swyngedouw 1986: 3-5). But the last example indicates what seems to be true also of many other of these activities, namely that they can hardly be regarded as signs of a deeper religious commitment.
An evaluation of Japanese religiosity depends largely on the concept of religion that one applies. If one understands religion to be what is of ultimate concern or what one can rely on with complete trust, as in Christianity, the number of religious people in Japan is probably very low. This is indicated by a survey published in the Asahi Shinbun in 1978 (July 22). Asked what one can rely on in this present age of uncertainty (fukakujitsusei no jidai to iwareru ima no yo no naka de, tayoreru mono wa), 41 percent answered "family", 30 percent "money", and only 4 percent "religion".13 Among men in their thirties "religion" was as low as 1 percent, and it was highest among men and women over 60 with 9 percent.
The above data is so scarce that it is difficult to draw definite conclusions from it concerning the role of Buddhism in present-day Japan. The one thing it clearly reveals, however, is that for the Japanese today Buddhism is by far the most important religion. The number of those who show a firm commitment to its values and activities is probably comparatively small, and the majority of the Japanese will think of Buddhism rather in terms of funerals and tourism in the first instance (sōshiki-Bukkyō and kankō-Bukkyō). Yet, as the high percentage of those who feel empathy towards Buddhism indicates, most Japanese apparently sense that Buddhism is an integral part of their tradition that even today deserves, if not their commitment, then at least their interest (Shūkyō wo gendai ni tou 1976: 104).
INTEREST IN SHINRAN IN PRESENT-DAY JAPAN:
DATA COLLECTED FROM NEWSPAPERS
The data discussed in the previous section refers to Buddhism in general. This includes not only the traditional schools of Buddhism but also a
number of New Religions. In the following, data for Shinran and the Shinshû will be compared with that for other Buddhist traditions in order to estimate the extent to which an interest in Shinran can be found in present-day Japan and what aspects of his thought are drawing the most attention. For this purpose, I have checked the databases of Japan's four leading newspapers (Asahi Shinbun, Yomiuri Shinbun, Mainichi Shinbun, Nikkei Shinbun) for references to Shinran and other related items during the past five years.14 The latter two could, however, be used only partly because of limitations in their system of classification. They will be mentioned in the following only when they deviate significantly.
For the said period, the Asahi has 87 articles referring to Shinran and the Yomiuri 38 (since September 1986), an average of 62.5. Comparable average figures are: for Hōnen 34, Dōgen 37.5, Nichiren 3215 (to gain an idea of the relative value of these figures: for Shōtoku Taishi 84, Fukuzawa Yukichi 79.5). This seems to indicate that Shinran receives considerable attention by the general public in Japan, comparatively more than the other representatives of Kamakura Buddhism do. The difference from the other traditions is particularly conspicuous if we look at the data for the different schools of Kamakura Buddhism. Limited to articles that refer to religion-related problems (otherwise the figures would be 50-100 percent higher) the average figures for Asahi and Yomiuri are: Jōdo Shinshû or Shinshū 101.5, Jōdo School 33.5, Zen School 43, Nichiren School 24.16 In the case of the Zen School one finds considerably more references if one searches for "Zen" (90.5) but, unfortunately, there is no corresponding word in the other traditions that would allow for a direct comparison. From these figures, however, we can see that among the four traditions of Kamakura Buddhism, which according to the official statistics represent about two thirds of all Buddhists (Shūkyō Nenkan 1990: 64-77), the Zen and even more the Shinshū tradition clearly attract the most attention in Japan today.
Besides the number of references in these newspapers, it is also interesting to investigate the topics of the respective articles. For this purpose, I have checked articles that appeared in the Asahi Shinbun during
1990. Among the 30 articles on Shinran, 17 refer to Shinran's religious thought or related religious practices, the other references occur in different contexts, for instance tourism, or are not specifically relevant. Among the former, five refer to lectures on Shinran (two of them by Asahi Cultural Centers), five to rituals and other religious practices and two to a doctrinal controversy involving Iwanami as the publisher of a new Buddhist dictionary. The other five articles are especially interesting: one is about a modern young woman who administers a temple and fights for the equality of women against the authorities of the Otani Branch of the Shinshū,17 another presents self-criticism and an appeal by the same branch to repent for the cooperation with the militarists during the war, a third is about a leading figure of the power struggle in the Otani Branch, a fourth presents criticism of the Great Thanksgiving Ceremony (daijōsai) and a fifth one discusses modern musical compositions depicting the life and thought of Shinran and other Buddhist personalities.18
For a comparison of the four schools of Kamakura Buddhism I have checked all religion-related articles on "Nichirenshū", "Zen", "Jōdoshū" and "Shinshū" or "Jōdo Shinshū" in the Asahi Shinbun during 1990, the numbers in each group being 15, 56, 30 and 61 respectively. Among the articles on the Nichiren School there are none of a specific religious or related social relevance, the majority are on local news, only one is on a ritual, and three are on personalities. The number of references to Zen is considerably higher (as mentioned above there are considerably fewer if one searches for "Zenshū"). Of 56 articles 25 are on topics not directly related to Zen or on aspects of Japanese cultural history, 13 are on religious experience (two on teaching, three on zazen, three on rituals), and 12 on other religion-related activities, particularly welfare (6). In the case of the Jōdo School 11 out of 30 articles deal with news about personalities, only five are on religious education and experience, and just two are on activities concerning social problems. The number of articles on the Jōdo Shinshū is again the highest (61).19 But what is more important is the difference in their content. Only five deal with topics not directly related to the Shinshū, four with its cultural or historical background, six refer to rituals
and twenty contain news about personalities. The astonishing fact now is that almost half of the articles (26) belong to a category that is virtually non-existent in the case of the other schools, namely problems of inner reforms, self-criticism, discussion of current social problems or criticism and protest with regard to social, political and other issues.20 Some of these have already been mentioned above in connection with references to Shinran.
Among these 26 articles ten refer to problems of inner reform in the Otani Branch of the Shinshū: four concern the continuing struggle for reform of the power structure in this branch, another four deal with reforms aimed at abolishing discrimination against women and two concern a confession of responsibility for the war.21 One article reports a survey by the Honganji Branch that reveals the often very serious financial, personnel and other problems of many temples.22 Three articles refer to protests by the latter branch against a misrepresentation of Shinran's thought in a new Buddhist dictionary (as mentioned above) and against a TV drama in which a Buddhist priest commits a murder.23 More important are a number of protests that concern social and political problems. In 1990, this means, in particular, criticism of the daijōsai and protest movements against it, referred to by seven articles, but there is also one article on the problem of the Yasukuni Shrine and one on a movement against a nuclear power plant.24
Given the specific interest of newspapers and their readers, these articles cannot be expected to be representative of all the various activities and forms of influence of the Shinshū in present-day Japan. But they do indicate the presence of a considerable potential for criticism and reforms in the Shinshū tradition, which is all the more conspicuous and draws the attention of a wider public because not only the traditional schools of
Buddhism but also the so-called New Religions25 tend to be quite conservative.
CONTEMPORARY LITERATURE ON SHINRAN
A clearer picture of the influence of Shinran's thought in Japan can be gained by looking at the extensive literature on him, ranging from popular works to highly specialized scholarly investigations. Almost 700 books on Shinran have been published since 1969, more than on any other personality of the Buddhist tradition in Japan,26 and over 3,100 on the Shinshū.27 The latter figure is several times as high as those for the Jōdo School (about 550) and the Nichiren School (about 850), and almost as high as that for the Zen School (over 3,200). In addition to this there are several thousand articles on Shinran or the Shinshū published during the same period.28
This testifies, on the one hand, to the extent not only of the educational and research activities in the Shinshū but also of their financial resources. Yet, on the other hand, it also seems to indicate widespread interest in Shinran and the Shinshū tradition, which is by no means limited to Shinshū adherents alone, as the large number of publications outside the Shinshū context can testify. Even in popular magazines, Shinran's personality and thought are frequently examined.29 A considerable number of works on Shinran that have drawn wide attention were written by non-Shinshū scholars many of whom were, at least to some degree, opposed to the interpretation of Shinran within the Shinshū tradition, such as, for example, the well-known historian Ienaga Saburō (lenaga 1955) and the Marxist historian Hattori Shisō (Hattori 1970a and 1970b). Besides, there are many Japanese artists and intellectuals who have written about Shin‑
ran, such as Endō Shūsaku, Yoshimoto Takaaki and Noma Hiroshi.30 Politically, they mostly support the conservatives and play an important role in elections (cf. Asahi Shinbun, Jan. 8, 1980, p. 4). The case of the philosopher Miki Kiyoshi — who was arrested as a Communist sympathizer and died in custody immediately after the war, and who wrote his last essay in prison on Shinran — is also well remembered.31 What these and other Japanese intellectuals stress is the singular importance of Shinran in the Japanese history of thought, and the relevance of his ideas today. Hattori emphasizes the revolutionary significance of Shinran's thought and the fact that he stood on the side of the people and rejected the idea of the "preservation of the nation" (gokoku), which plays such a significant role as a central function of Japanese Buddhism and which has also been stressed in the Shinshū tradition (Hattori 1970a: passim). Ienaga regards Shinran as climax of the history of thought in Japan (Ienaga 1980: 9) and points to his emphasis on the individual and on the precedence of faith over secular power, which relativizes the state and other worldly authorities (Ienaga 1980: passim). Noma maintains that Shinran has brought about a decisive turn in Buddhism, away from a "Buddhism of dominance" (shihai no Bukkyō) to a lay Buddhism of the masses that destroys all dominance; this he regards as a return to original Buddhism (Noma 1973: 2).
Shinshū scholars had no reason to question the significance thus attributed to Shinran within the Japanese history of thought. In many cases, however, they were unable to accept some of the new interpretations of Shinran's thought. Their criticism ranges from rejection to a careful study and critical evaluation of these approaches that has led to a new and historically founded view of Shinran and his place in the history of thought. Most Shinshū scholars rightly point out that the critical and even revolutionary elements in Shinran cannot be understood correctly, if they are not seen in the context of his basic religious experience, his absolute faith in Amida Buddha's vow as the only way to salvation.
In view of the above-mentioned elements of Shinran's thought it is astonishing (or perhaps not, given the structure of traditional Japanese society) to see how Shinran's original religious impulse and its social and political implications resulted in the establishment of a Buddhist school
that, with its feudal structure, its conservatism and close cooperation with the secular authorities, resembled those traditional Buddhist schools that Shinran had rejected. But it is even more astonishing that, in spite of this, so much of the spirit of Shinran has survived in the Shinshū tradition that it has been able to become the basis of criticism and reforms within this tradition as well as in various social and political contexts. In this respect the Shinshū seems to be the only major Buddhist tradition that could play a critical and positive role in modern Japanese society. This is corroborated by the attention given to this aspect of the Shinshū in Japanese newspapers, as shown above. The struggle for reforms in the Otani Branch of the Shinshū referred to in that context typically shows both sides, a traditional authoritarian and conservative structure on the one hand and the struggle of the reformers against it on the other. In order to understand this problem better, a brief survey of the historical development since Shinran will be helpful.
FROM SHINRAN TO THE DOMINANCE OF THE HONGANJI
Hōnen (1133-1212), Shinran's teacher, believed that in this age of decline (mappō) nobody could achieve enlightenment by his own efforts (jiriki) and all had to rely completely on the other power (tariki) of Amida. He, therefore, rejected all religious practices except the calling of the name of Amida (nenbutsu) as the only way to salvation. Shinran (1173-1263), based on his own religious experiences on Mt. Hie, as Hōnen's disciple and particularly during his exile in Echigo (now Niigata prefecture), went one decisive step beyond his teacher. He realized that even the nenbutsu could be an attempt to achieve salvation through one's own efforts and calculations. But human beings are utterly incapable of freeing themselves from evil, passions and blindness in this way. If, however, they abandon all their own efforts, the faith given by Amida arises in them naturally (jinen ni) and assures them of their salvation. Since this is the working of Amida's vow and not their own effort, it can be trusted absolutely.32
The certainty of this salvation by the other power, which he personally experienced, had a number of consequences, partly radical ones, for Shinran's thought. He could now accept himself in spite of all his deficiencies.33 because he knew he was personally accepted by Amida. So he
could even say, as the Tannishō reports in the epilogue, that Amida's vow "was solely for me, Shinran, alone" (Ryukoku Translation Center 1963: 79; TSSZ 4: 37).34 The confidence he thus gained can be felt in many of his utterances, especially in his criticism of traditional values, and in the enthusiasm with which, after his exile, he began his extensive missionary activities in the Kantō region.
Knowing that there was nothing he could achieve on his own, Shinran emphasized that he did not have a single disciple and he regarded himself as equal to even the lowest, for Amida's vow does not discriminate between good or evil persons (TSSZ 4: 4, 9). He even goes as far as saying: "Even a good person is born in the Pure Land, how much more so is an evil person!" (Ryukoku Translation Center 1963: 22; TSSZ 4: 6). These teachings could be understood as a challenge not only to the established Buddhist schools but also to the traditional values of a hierarchically structured society. The way to salvation shown by Hōnen and Shinran was accessible to everyone without the need to become a monk or even to change one's way of life. It also meant a rejection of all rituals and traditional religious practices on which the power of the established religions was based. No wonder, therefore, that they had already tried to suppress Hōnen's movement, which meant for Shinran that he was exiled to Echigo.
That Shinran lived among common people for almost thirty years both during his exile and later, in the Kantō region, is one of the outstanding features of his life. Hattori claims that during this time he stood on the side of the farmers against those who were suppressing them (Hattori 1970a). This has caused a debate among scholars of various disciplines concerning the social background of Shinran's followers and the extent to which a criticism of social and political structures can be found in his writings. Because of the scarcity of the relevant material this debate, to which we have to return below, produced very few historical facts, but it demonstrated the relevance of Shinran's thought today and established his reputation as one of the few radical and critical thinkers in the Japanese history of thought.
When Shinran died, the majority of his numerous followers lived in the Kantō region. They were mostly organized around dōjō, meeting places, where they met regularly for worship services and where adherents from the lower classes could participate in the religious practices far more than in the traditional temples. "This fuller religious life, centering around the dōjō, was the reason for its popularity among peasants, and was the key to
Shinshū growth during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries" (Dobbins 1989: 66). The congregations that thus emerged were mostly lay communities. Unlike the temples, they were not hierarchically structured and made decisions by consensus. Some scholars have characterized them as a new, revolutionary form of anti-establishment Buddhism.35 They often became the center of the village community and a basis for its autonomy. In some regions this resulted in the powerful movement of the Ikkō ikki, Shinshū leagues that played an important political role during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.36
But these religious and social movements on the grass-roots level did not continue for long. There were more powerful forces of traditional society and culture that led the development of Shinshū in a different direction and eventually resulted in a religious organization with temples, a hierarchical structure, a powerful hereditary leadership and a strict control of the believers that, in many ways, surpassed even the traditional Buddhist schools. One of these forces, evident in many religious and other groups in Japan, was the personal devotion to the founder and his descendants. Kakunyo, Rennyo and others, as descendants of Shinran, succeeded in gradually uniting almost all of the various Shinshū groups and even other Buddhist believers under the leadership of their temple, the Honganji in Kyōto, and in shaping these into the most powerful religious organization in Japanese history.
Another important factor in the development of the Shinshū was the ability of its leaders, especially Rennyo, to present the tenets of their school in a way that appealed to the masses and corresponded to their religious and social needs. While largely preserving the religious impact of Shinran's thought, they tried to limit some of its radical, particularly political, consequences and to accommodate them to the feudalistic society of their times. In this they were so successful that, after the war, the head priest of the Higashi Honganji came to be regarded as one of the last remnants of feudal society in modern Japan, as demonstrated in the power struggle associated with his name.
Many elements introduced into the Shinshū tradition and organization under the dominance of the Honganji are clearly incongruous with Shinran's attitude and teachings, for instance, the establishment of a system of temples under the control of the Honganji, the claim to religious authority based on lineage, the cooperation with and support of the religious and the political establishment, the strict control over the believers through a
"network of authority" (Dobbins 1989: 152) as well as the granting of salvation and the use of excommunication and even execution as a means of upholding their authority.37 But Rennyo and others preserved and propagated the essential elements of Shinran's religious thought and these would hardly be so widely known and appreciated today, if they had not been handed on within the powerful organization these Honganji leaders created.
REFORM MOVEMENTS AND CRITICAL ATTITUDES INSPIRED BY SHINRAN'S THOUGHT
In the centuries after Rennyo, the Shinshū became more or less an integral part of feudal society, like all the other Buddhist schools, a "guardian of the state" (Rogers and Rogers 1990: 3) and an "ideology for feudal control" (Ienaga 1965: 4). Accordingly, it suffered the same shock as the other Buddhist groups when they lost the support of the state and even had to face persecution by a militant anti-Buddhist movement at the beginning of the Meiji period. The reaction of the Buddhists was twofold. On the one hand, they made every possible effort to re-establish close ties with the state but, on the other, the blow dealt to Buddhism also offered them an opportunity to awaken, and it gradually led to various attempts at Buddhist reform.38
Typical of the former tendency are the works of the Shinshū priest and philosopher Inoue Enryō (1858-1919). In his numerous writings he first tried to defend Buddhism against Christianity and modern Western thought, then, in line with a more conservative tendency in the government, he began to emphasize the moral obligation of absolute loyalty to the emperor39 and obedience to the landlords, and finally, when the Sino-Japanese War broke out, he even advocated a warlike spirit and a militaristic education for children (cf. Ienaga 1965: 17-20). The extent to which the Shinshū leaders cooperated with the state during wartime can be seen in the words of thanks which the emperor addressed to Otani Kōzui of the Nishi Honganji after the Russo-Japanese War and in which he praises the latter's support of the war (cf. Ienaga 1965: 15). The climax of this development was reached during the Second World War when the authority of
the emperor was absolutized in the Shinshū, and the sacrifice of one's life for the imperial state was regarded as an act of piety towards Amida (Rogers and Rogers 1990: 18-20).
It was difficult, of course, to find supporting arguments for such tendencies in Shinran's thought. On the contrary, a number of passages in his writings appeared so offensive at that time that they were deleted or changed. The best known example is a passage at the end of Shinran's major work, the Kyōgyōshinshō, where he severely criticizes "the emperor and his retainers" for "going against the dharma and justice" in their attempt to suppress Hōnen's teachings, imposing "indiscriminate" death sentences on several of his disciples and exiling others, including Shinran (TSSZ 1: 380). Already in early Meiji a proposal was made to leave out the most offensive terms in this passage, "the emperor and his retainers" (shujō shinka), and in 1936, in a revised edition issued by the Nishi Honganji, the text was arbitrarily changed to "the retainers of the emperor" (shujō no shinka) through the insertion of the particle no (Shigaraki 1977: 228-229). Finally, in 1940 the entire sentence was forbidden by the Nishi Honganji for use in services or for quotation,40 and similar steps were taken by the Higashi Honganji (Shigaraki 1977: 229). Even in a fairly recent English translation, the word "emperor" is avoided and the term "lords" is used instead to render shujō.41
Such conservative tendencies can still partly be seen in the post-war Shinshū. However, more important for an understanding of the present situation of this school and of Shinran's thought in present-day Japan are the efforts at reform that began with the Meiji period. Ienaga emphasizes that most of the Buddhist attempts at reform "ended in a revival of a Buddhism tied up with the old system, and did not succeed in producing a Buddhism of the new age freed from the pre-modern restrictions," but that a "rare example of success in achieving a new development of the Buddhist faith" can be found in the idealism of Kiyozawa Manshi around the turn of the century (Ienaga 1965: 23-24). According to a recent book by Katō Chiken, Kiyozawa shows the Japanese a way towards modernization and internationalization of religion (Katō 1990: esp. 191-257).
Kiyozawa (1863-1903), the most important reformer in the Otani Branch of the Shinshū, was influenced by the stoicism of Epictetus and the philosophy of Hegel, but most of all by the thought of Shinran, especially
as he found it in the Tannishō, which had been "a sort of forbidden book" (Thelle 1976: 74) for centuries.42 His interpretation of Shinran and the spirit of reform he created are still alive in the Shinshū today, mainly through the works and activities of his disciples Soga Ryōjin (1875-1970) and Kaneko Daiei (1881-1976) and this "has recently led to a more active concern for social and political problems" (Thelle 1976: 74). His thought was especially attractive to Japanese intellectuals at the beginning of this century, and it marks the beginning of a widespread new interest in Shinran.
Kiyozawa's efforts at democratic reforms43 in the Otani Branch of the Shinshū were met with stiff resistance and suppression by its conservative leaders. A petition signed by 20,000 persons was rejected and Kiyozawa and five others were expelled from the branch. In 1897 an assembly of sixty representatives was created, half of them appointed by the Honganji. Only in 1927, finally, were all members of this assembly elected as representatives of the various regional groups. In contrast to this, within the Honganji Branch the head of the branch had himself already presented a radical reform plan in 1879, which was, however, rejected by the temple hierarchy and even caused the emperor to intervene. Nevertheless, two years later the Honganji Branch had a representative assembly, well before the first Japanese national assembly convened.
After the war the struggle for reform in the Otani Branch was renewed. The head priest and his conservative supporters claimed that they were defending the traditional doctrine, but on the other hand, the reformers around Minefuji Ryō and other representatives of the executive power of the branch criticized them for their efforts to retain the old power structures, emphasizing the need to face the problems of the modern world based on Shinran's spirit of radicalism. It is quite impressive to see what the reform movement achieved in spite of a strong continuing opposition. Not only did it succeed in realizing a more democratic structure of the Otani Branch by decisively limiting the traditional power of the head of the branch, it could also show that the spirit of Shinran was still alive in the Shinshū (Ama 1991: 12). Most important in this context is the Dōbōkai Undō ("Companions in Faith Movement") founded in 1961.44 Its aim is a
return to Shinran's thought and religious experience as the basis for a new religious awareness of the believers in modern society, emphasizing especially the role of the individual believer (Thelle 1976: 66; Cooke 1978: 19-25).
This movement has led to an active concern for social and political issues among many members of the school, while others regard these new tendencies with reservation or even suspicion.45 Concrete examples of the former are the involvement in movements against the discrimination of the buraku people, most of whom traditionally belong to the Shinshū,46 or against political use of the Yasukuni Shrine or the daijōsai. Other activities stress the need for global concern with problems of war and the arms race and the responsibility of the individual in this context. There is also a growing awareness of the necessity to reconsider the role of women in the Shinshū as well as in present-day society.
Besides such attempts at reform, mostly limited to the Shinshū, there is another movement that also began after the crisis of Buddhism in early Meiji. It is what has been called "the scientific modernization of Buddhist studies" (Ienaga 1965: 27), a movement which has generally been more successful and more widespread and also involved many intellectuals outside Buddhist circles. Under the influence of Western science, the historical development of Buddhism from its origin in India became the object of intensive investigations. Progress in Buddhist studies is less conspicuous when doctrinal matters are involved. According to Ienaga "it cannot be overlooked that the fact that most Buddhist scholars are priests of the Buddhist sects and that the free progress of research is difficult without the cooperation of the sects considerably hampers the growth of Buddhist studies as a modern science" (Ienaga 1965: 30).
In the case of studies on Shinran and the Shinshū, however, the overall picture is not that gloomy, it seems to me, because of the influence of the reform movement within the school and also because of the challenge posed by non-sectarian studies, including those by Ienaga himself. This is amply demonstrated by the post-war discussion on Shinran, which has produced a considerable number of important scholarly works. They have opened the way for a reappraisal of Shinran's thought, by confirming facts of his biography and separating them from later legendary elements, by creating an objective basis for the interpretation of Shinran's work through extensive philological and historical studies, and by trying to understand Shinran within the social and historical context of his time.
As mentioned above, the debate was initiated immediately after the war by Hattori Shisō, who strongly criticized the Shinshū tradition for having distorted Shinran's original teaching, thereby (Hattori 1970a: 4) causing a boom in Shinran research by showing the relevance of Shinran's thought for modern Japan (Ienaga 1980: 11).
Hattori, and also Ienaga, emphasized two points in particular: that Shinran stood on the side of the common people and that from this point of view he was critical of those in power and of the collaboration of Buddhism with them (Hattori 1970a: passim; Ienaga 1980: 12). In this context, the discussion focussed especially on the social status of Shinran's followers as well as on his attitude towards the authorities and the state with regard, among others, to the problems of gokoku (preservation of the nation) and ōbō/buppō (imperial law /Buddhist teaching).47
While Ienaga had already modified Hattori's interpretation (Ienaga 1955: 201-209), other scholars criticized Hattori's ideological presuppositions and his methodology (see Futaba 1962: 3-36). But few went as far as Kashiwabara Yōsen who maintains that it is impossible to find any spirit of criticism with regard to secular power expressed in Shinran's letters, the same letters which Hattori had used for his argumentation (cf. Furuta 1975: 235-252), and that to expect such criticism of Shinran would mean destroying the essentially trans-historical religious dimension of his thought (Furata 1975: 132). Yasutomi Shinya, on the other hand, emphasizes the importance of Shinran's spirit of criticism for modern Japan and the need to see it in the context of Shinran's faith and teaching (Yasutomi 1982: esp. 271-273; also Yasutomi 1986). Most Shinran scholars who have made a relevant contribution to the discussion emphasize the need to interpret the issues raised by Hattori in relation to Shinran's central religious experience and they try to mediate between a position that sees Shinran as a radical social reformer on the one hand, and one that adheres to the traditional interpretation of his thought on the other.
Kasahara Kazuo, for instance, maintains that the idea of gokoku can be found in Shinran, but that he emphasized it only as a hōben, as a "means" to protect the nenbutsu faith (Kasahara 1957: 399). Futaba Kenkō points out that the discussion after the war has concentrated too heavily on the social background of Shinran's followers, whereas it would be more important to study the social implications of Shinran's faith itself; he also argues that the numerous studies of the Ikkō ikki, too, did not sufficiently investigate the role the Shinshū faith played in these and in the social history of Japanese religion in general (Futaba 1985: 3). According to Futaba,
a society based on Shinran's faith in Amida's vow is radically different from the traditional structure where native religion and society, secular and religious power, ōbō and buppō are one; Shinran's faith implies a social system based on universal religion, but the history of the Shinshū shows a tendency back to traditional society and thus the social implications of Shinran's faith remain an important issue today (Futaba 1985: 10-11, 16).
As we have seen, the relevance of Shinran's thought for present-day Japan is pointed out by many scholars and intellectuals both inside and outside the Shinshū tradition. To what extent this is also felt and experienced by the Shinshū adherents at large in their everyday life or even by those out-side the school is another question, closely related to the general problem of the relevance of religious values and attitudes in Japanese society. The material discussed at the beginning of this paper indicates at least that there is a relatively widespread interest in Shinran, especially when compared to other religious thinkers or traditions. One could say that many Japanese seem to sense the relevance of Shinran's thought for modern society and the modern individual, a relevance that extends both to the religious and the secular spheres.
A major reason for this popularity of Shinran in Japan today can be found in his personality. This is related to the fact, noted in section 1 above, that personal relations to a leader or teacher, especially in the case of charismatic religious leaders, play a very important role in Japan, usually more than institutional affiliation or teaching. It is quite remarkable to see the extent to which Shinran in this sense is still alive in modern Japan. In the Shinshū, neither Rennyo nor any other of his successors could replace him as spiritual leader,48 and outside the school his popularity is demonstrated by, for instance, the overwhelming success of Kurata Hyakuzō's reading drama "The Priest and His Disciples" (Shukke to sono deshi, 1917), loosely based on Shinran's life, which caused a flood of Shinran biographies. Shinran's personality, his humbleness and strength, his compassion and critical determination, his life as a pious priest and, at the same time, as a layman with a family, the strength of his faith and his dedicated service even to the lowest members of society, all this has deeply impressed his contemporaries and many others since his day.49 Without
this attractiveness of Shinran's personality, the influence of his thought, however relevant it may be, would probably be much more limited.
The discussion of Shinran's thought after the war was characterized by an emphasis on instances of social and political criticism in his works and by a sometimes sharp criticism of the Honganji tradition. This has caused a re-evaluation of Shinran's thought and has demonstrated his relevance in modern Japan. Subsequent research has led to a more balanced view of Shinran, particularly by pointing out the central importance of his experience of faith. It seems to me, however, that the emancipatory potential of his thought for Japanese society is not yet fully realized, particularly with regard to the bun-mentality discussed above in the first section. This is especially true of his emphasis on the individual, which is quite unique in the history of Japanese thought, and which is based on his own experience of being unconditionally accepted by Amida as the individual being he is in spite of all imperfections. His absolute faith and trust in Amida also made him realize the relativity of all ethical, social, or political values and institutions. This is the basis for Shinran's spirit of criticism, which is also always self-criticism. The realization of his own vanity leads to solidarity with even the lowest members of society and to an emphasis on the equality of all, men and women, high and low, as expressed in the term dōbō. This also implies the discovery of something universally human that transcends national and cultural boundaries (Ienaga 1980: 17-21).
It may well be that Shinran's thought will prove to be one of the few traditional religious beliefs in Japan, if not the only one, that, while preserving the continuity of the tradition, can provide a basis for the individual for facing the challenges of modern society.
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TSSZ = Teihon Shinran Shōnin Zenshū. 1969-70. Ed. Shinran Shōnin Zenshū Kankōkai 9 + 1 vols. Kyōto: Hōzōkan.
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1 First published in Humanities (ICU) 25, 1993: 93-120.
2 Swyngedouw (1986: 10) describes musubi as "the life-power of harmonious communities on all levels of society".
3 There is, however, one example in the context of Old Testament thought that is very similar and can help to understand the Japanese phenomenon. It is the so-called 'corporate' or 'collective' thinking of the Ancient East, more appropriately called Ganzheitsdenken by Rolf Knierim (Die Hauptbegriffe für Sünde im Alten Testament. Gütersloh: Mohn 1965: 98-99, cf. 97-112).
4 The underlying mentality is even more misunderstood and distorted by Köpping, who refers to both Lebra and Swyngedouw, when he uses terms like "Zersplitterung" (splitting) or "Segregierung" (segregation) of the various life-spheres or speaks of the coordination of each segment to a whole ("wobei jedes Segment einem Ganzen zugeordnet wird", Köpping 1990: 3, 4).
5 The Agency seems to regret that because of the post-war occupation and "due to the change in the relationship between religious organizations and the state since the end of World War II, it is now more difficult to obtain reliable figures. Before the war, the government could easily gather information and statistics by requiring reports from religious bodies in accordance with legal enactments [...]" (Japanese Religions 1972: 233).
6 Only those religious groups that have corporate status according to the Religious Juridical Persons Law are listed (cf. Shūkyō Nenkan 1990: 1).
7 Japanese Religions 1972: 236-237. For more details see ibid., 233-237, also "Statistics on Religious Organizations in Japan, 1947-1972", in: Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 2, 1975: 46-47.
8 A fact which is often not realized, even in more recent publications on Japanese religions. Cf. e. g. Charles Wei-hsun Fu: "Japanese Spiritual Resources and their Contemporary Relevance", in: Journal of Dharma 10, 1985: 82; Kamstra 1990: 177 (where the figure given for the "membership" of Risshō Kōseikai is even higher than in the Shūkyō Nenkan [1990: 77]).
9 Nihonjin no shūkyō-ishiki (Religious consciousness of the Japanese), Tōkyō: Nippon Hōsō Shuppan Kyōkai, 1985. A detailed analysis with charts is given in Swyngedouw 1986: 2-5, to which I refer in the following. Cf. also Eto 1986: 34-35.
10 A chart in Swyngedouw 1986: 2, shows a decrease from 35 percent in 1958 to a low of 25 percent in 1973, but then an increase to the previous level (34 percent and 33 percent).
11 For those who believe that these beings certainly exist the percentage is slightly lower, if one includes those who think they may perhaps exist, it is somewhat higher (see Swyngedouw 1986: 3).
12 See Swyngedouw 1986: 2-3, who also notes that the figures for Shintō are "relatively low when we take religious observances connected with Shintō into account."
13 They could choose among eight answers. The others were: "friends" 5 percent, "associations or unions (kumiai)" 1 percent, "company" 5 percent, "education" 4 percent, "politics" 6 percent.
14 The exact period is from January 1, 1985 for the Asahi Shinbun and the Nikkei Shinbun, from September 1, 1986 for the Yomiuri Shinbun, and from January 1987 for the Mainichi Shinbun, until the middle of January 1991. Some data from the Asahi Shinbun depends upon a system of classification introduced from August 4, 1985.
15 In the case of the Yomiuri and the Mainichi the figures for Nichiren are higher than for Shinran (44/30 against 38/26), whereas in the Asahi those for Shinran are more than five times as high (87 against 20).
16 Even if the references to the Nichiren Shōshū are added the figure does not increase significantly.
17 Since the beginning of the 17th century the Shinshū has consisted mainly of two large branches, the Honganji Branch and the Otani Branch, which were split primarily for political reasons. They both call their head temple Honganji, usually referred to as Nishi (Western) and Higashi (Eastern) Honganji, names which are popularly also used to denote the two branches.
18 Jan. 5 (evening, Osaka ed., p. 3), April 3 (p. 30), Sept. 5 (evening, Osaka ed., p. 5), Oct. 17 (evening, Osaka ed., p. 2), Dec. 8 (Kyōto).
19 Twelve of these are identical with articles mentioned above that refer to Shinran in 1990.
20 In the case of the Jōdoshū there is only one article concerning problems of discrimination and human rights (Dec. 7, Kyōto) and among those on Zen one refers to a protest against the daijōsai (Nov. 22, Nagoya ed., p. 14). As to the Shinshū, some of the news on personalities relate to the struggle for reforms in the Otani branch and thus could also be added to this category.
21 March 30 (p. 30), May 11 (p. 30), May 11 (Osaka ed., p. 30), Oct. 3 (Osaka ed., p. 30); Jan. 5 (evening, Osaka ed., p. 3), June 2 (p. 30), July 2 (evening, Osaka ed., p. 3), Oct. 8 (evening, Seibu ed., p. 7); March 31 (Osaka ed., p. 3), April 3 (p. 30).
22 Aug. 8 (evening, p. 10).
23 July 21 (Kyōto ed., p. 26), Aug. 28 (Osaka ed., p. 26); Feb. 11 (Osaka ed., p. 30).
24 Jan. 28 (p. 30), May 24 (p. 30), June 7 (p. 30), Oct. 17 (evening, Osaka ed., p. 2), Nov. 1 (evening, Osaka ed., p. 18), Nov. 7 (Osaka ed., p. 3), Nov. 8 (p. 30); Aug. 5 (p. 3); Feb. 8 (Osaka ed., p. 26). The rest (3) of the said 26 articles are on less relevant issues.
25 Politically, they mostly support the conservatives and play an important role in elections (cf. Asahi Shinbun, Jan. 8, 1980, p. 4).
26 Cf. the introductory remark to the appended bibliography in Matsuno Junkō et al.: Zoku-Shinran wo kataru, Tōkyō: Sanseidō, 1980.
27 These and the following figures are taken from the bibliography of books published in Japan issued on CD-ROM by the National Diet Library (1969-1990).
28 The Classified Catalogue of Theses and Papers Related to Buddhist Studies (Bukkyōgaku kankei zasshi ronbun bunrui mokuroku IV, ed. by Ryūkoku Daigaku Bukkyōgaku Kenkyūshitsu, Kyōto: Nagata Bunshōdō 1986: 796-906) lists more than 2,000 for the years 1970-1984.
29 A magazine for managers, the President (Purejidento), for instance, has since 1984 issued four special editions on Shinran: Tokushū Shinran (Dec. 1984); Bessatsu Purejidento: Shinran (Oct. 1988); Tokushū Shinran to Rennyo (Dec. 1989); Tokushū Shinran no kokoro (Jan. 1993).
30 Cf. Masutani and Endō 1979 (the book contains lectures by Masutani, with questions and comments by Endō); Yoshimoto Takaaki: Zōho saigo no Shinran, Tōkyō: Shunjūsha, 1981; Noma 1973. Cf. also Lee 1977: 30-31, who emphasizes: "[...] all have found in very different ways the life and faith of Shinran paradigmatic in their own search for meaning in modern Japan" (Lee 1977: 31).
31 The Asahi Shinbun (Feb. 17, 1989, evening, p. 1), under the heading "The History of Suppression is Sad", reports that a ship with Miki and others on board, who were drafted into a kind of penal service, left the port in 1942, on the same day (February 18) on which Shinran, in 1207, arrived in his exile in Echigo.
32 For a more detailed discussion of the above see Schepers 1988: esp. 7-17.
33 Since his exile he calls himself gutoku, literally "bald-headed (toku) fool (gu)". The sense in which Shinran uses this term is partly controversial; cf. e. g. Furuta 1975: 167-172; Ryukoku Translation Center 1983: 25, Katō 1987: 88-92, Dobbins 1989: 26-27.
34 Bellah 1974: 8, seems to completely overlook this point when he maintains that with Shinran "there is no end to be gained and no self to gain it".
35 Cf. especially Futaba 1962: 76-122, 257-277; see Dobbins 1989: 69.
36 See the comprehensive treatise on this subject by Pauly 1985 and the numerous bibliographical references there.
37 Cf. Dobbins 1989: 80, 151-153; Pauly 1985: esp. 337-415; Solomon 1978: 54,59.
38 See Ienaga 1965: esp. 11-31.
39 This is also, though somewhat more carefully worded, expressed already in the "Testament" of Kōnyo, the head priest of the Nishi Honganji, who died in 1871 (cf. Rogers and Rogers 1990: 7-12).
40 Shigaraki 1977: 217-218. Many other passages were deleted or changed; cf. Shigaraki 1977: 217-219, Rogers and Rogers 1990: 15-18.
41 Ryukoku Translation Center 1983: 206. The text is also quoted in this form in several English publications, e. g. Bloom 1978: 96; Takahatake 1987: 78 (cf. however 81).
42 Rennyo, in his colophon to the Tannishō, had already warned that those "who lack the matured goodness sown in past lives should not be allowed to read it in-discriminately" (Ryukoku Translation Center 1963: 88).
43 For the following cf. Thelle 1976: 73-74.
44 The word dōbō literally means "from the same womb" and was used by Shinran to express the fact that all believers are brothers in faith. In the Honganji Branch a similar movement, the Mon Shintokai-Zukuri Undō ("Movement to Form Associations of the Faithful") was founded in the same year 1961, the seven hundredth anniversary of Shinran's death (cf. Japanese Religions 1972: 199).
45 For the following cf. Cooke 1989: 70-71, and the references in newspapers mentioned in section 3 above.
46 Cf. e. g. Shūkyō o gendai ni tou 1976: 118-125.
47 For a brief survey of the discussion on these points see Bloom 1968: 26-30, 56-60; cf. also Fugen 1987.
48 This may also be the reason why, as far as I know, no New Religion has originated from the Shinshū tradition.
49 Cf. Bloom 1978:97: "[...] when we observe Shinran, his life, his personality and his teachings, we see that he was a person of strength [...] Shinran was mild, but not weak; he was not self-assertive but also not ineffective. Shinran was a true person at one with himself and also a person for others. He lived a long time ago, but his qualities are timeless, making him a fitting model for our time." Bloom's interpretation of Shinran's relevance for modern society, in the same article, tends, however, to read elements into his thought that are often regarded as typical of "Eastern" in contrast to "Western" thought, e. g. an attitude "which will not allow structures, distinctiorts, concepts, or theory to obstruct the deeper inner reality of experience" (Bloom 1978: 88), "Shinran's perception of the ineradicable egoism that distorts our every activity" (Bloom 1978: 89), or "Jinen hōni, the naturalness of life, which is perceived beyond or within all the conditions of life" (Bloom 1978: 91); concerning the latter cf. Gerhard Schepers: 'Naturalness' in Japanese Religion: Shinran's Concept of Jinen-Hōni, in: Humanities (ICU) 20, 1986: 59-81.